Phuket See And Do
Sirinat Marine National Park
Tel: 66 76 328 226
Arguably the best beach—and certainly the longest—on Phuket is Hat Mai Khao, a five-mile slice of white sand rimmed with pines in Sirinat Marine National Park, on the north end of the island. Despite being relatively close to the airport—it's also known as Airport Beach— it's an ideal place to find a quiet nook with a partner. (There are hotels in the park, but they're built off the water.) Two other nice beaches, Hat Nai Yang and Hat Sai Kaeo, are here, too. Swimming is good in the dry season, but the tides are dangerous when the rains come. Camping is allowed on Nai Yang. Book ahead (firstname.lastname@example.org).
More than 40 limestone islands with deserted beaches, underground streams, and caves rise out of Phang Nga Bay amid thick mangrove forests. The two big stops on any boat trip through the area are Tapu, or "James Bond," Island, where The Man With the Golden Gun was filmed; and Koh Panyee, a village built entirely on stilts where you can observe the culture of the so-called "sea gypsies." In order to avoid the tourist hordes, it's best to book a trip that leaves early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Although you can go directly to Yacht Haven Marina and hire a longtail boat for less than $50 to take you to the major sites, it's best to book a more formal tour to ensure that you have English-speaking guides with proper safety training. The best companies are John Gray's Sea Canoe and Asia Marine. We think the trips on the traditional longtail boats are more fun than those on the more luxurious cruisersthe distinctively shaped longtails are fast, small, and ride closer to the water. In order to properly navigate through dark sea caves to the area's famous hongscaves whose roofs have collapsedyou'll have to hop into a sea kayak. John Gray runs an excellent night tour that explores the hongs by candlelight, as well as overnight kayak-and-camping trips for more seasoned paddlers.
For nine days at the start of the ninth lunar month (typically late October or early November) the streets of Phuket fill up with singing and dancing revelers, fireworks light up the skies, and you might assume it's a national holiday. Not quite. It's the annual Vegetarian Festivalwhich sounds like a vegan rave, but is actually a Taoist version of Lent. Thais of Chinese origin abstain from meat, alcohol, and sex and take part in spiritual trances and self-mutilationthat is, skewering and spearing themselves in the cheeks or the arms and legs. It can seem a bit wild to outsiders, but it's a cultural experience, and there is delicious vegetarian food for sale everywhere.
On the Thai New Year (April 12-15), the island becomes an enormous outdoor water fight. The fest springs from the tradition of sprinkling water on statues of Buddha, but you're more likely to have a drunken Swede dump a bucket of water on your head or get squirted with a watergun by a seven-year-old Thai kid. Actually, being soaked to the skin anywhere in Patong is a nice refreshment in April's boiling-hot weather. Beware: Some pranksters mix the water with talc, resulting in a white spray that makes for a really bad hair day.
115/15 Moo 7, Thepkasattri Road
Thalang , Phuket
Tel: 66 76 336 000
If the hotel gym is a bit paltry, even an Ironman will be satisfied at Thanyapura. The 56-acre complex includes an Olympic swimming pool, professional rugby and soccer pitches, a cushioned athletics track, six Plexicushion tennis courts, an air-conditioned fitness center, and studios for yoga, dance, and Pilates. Located in the foothills north of Phuket (about 15 minutes from the airport), the tropically landscaped campus also has facilities for working on your inside as well as your outside. There's a restaurant serving organic food and wine, a small spa, and the Mind Centre, where renowned Buddhist thinkers lead meditation sessions. Visitors can even stay the night here at one of two small boutique hotels, the 77-room Thanyapura Resort and 38-room Thanyapura Retreat.—Cynthia Rosenfeld
Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park
Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park
Tel: 66 76 420 243
Lam Ru is a park on the Phang Nga mainland that includes both coastal areas and inland forest, with waterfalls, mountains, and many other natural wonders. The many distinct ecosystems throughout its 48 square miles can match any naturalist's fancy: Birders will be a-twitter at the eagles and scarlet minivets; snorkelers might run into anything from moray eels to sea cucumbers; for those keen on reptiles, there are pit vipers to suit all tastes. Tread lightly.